HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson was chasing much more than a championship.
He was also chasing NASCAR history.
The most dominant driver of this decade won a record fourth consecutive championship Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he raced hard to finish fifth when 25th place would have gotten the job done.
In doing so, Johnson joined Richard Petty (7), Dale Earnhardt (7) and teammate Jeff Gordon (4) as the only drivers to win more than three titles.
“The cool thing is, we’re not done yet,” he warned.
“I grew up on two wheels in the dirt,” the 34-year-old Californian said. “I had no clue I was going to end up here racing stock cars and doing something that had never been done before.
“To do something that’s never been done in the sport, and love the sport like I do and respect it like I do and the greats – Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon – to do something they have never done is so awesome.
“And to win four championships in eight years, what this team has done – this is unbelievable.”
Johnson bulldozed his way into the record books, pouncing when the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship began to pull team owner Rick Hendrick into the record books with him.
Johnson’s title gave a record 12th overall championship to Hendrick, who was in North Carolina with a niece who was undergoing an emergency liver transplant.
In his absence, Johnson, Mark Martin and Gordon celebrated a 1-2-3 finish in the final points standings, just the second time in NASCAR history a team owner has swept the standings.
“Heavy hearts and prayers with the boss man and the family,” Martin said, paying homage to Hendrick. “That sort of takes a little bit of the shine off of it. But congratulations to Hendrick Motorsports, to Jimmie Johnson – Superman – and to my team.”
Johnson raced hard for wins in nine of the 10 Chase races, and for all 400 miles at Homestead, where he threatened to try to run down the leaders to better his eventual fifth-place finish.
Nobody gave Johnson anything, either. The other drivers raced hard around him all day, making Johnson earn every point in a race won by Denny Hamlin, who established himself as a driver to watch in 2010 by winning a career-high four races this season.
Hamlin also managed to keep pace with Johnson at times but fell out of contention with three DNFs.
“We’re going to be there, I promise you,” Hamlin said. “I promise you, the next couple years, we’re going to win the championship. But right now, there’s no one more deserving than Jimmie.”
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